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December 26, 2007 > A brand new day

A brand new day

By Mattie Carvalho
Photos By Mattie Carvalho

It has been said that music is a universal language. Through lyrics and melody, music is able to capture emotions, evoke feelings, and generate joy. At no time is this most evident than the holiday season. From Christmas carols to Dreidel songs; from Sunday morning worship service to New Year's Auld Lang Syne - music transcends boundaries to touch the same chords in our hearts.

With this spirit in mind, the California School for the Blind (CSB) presented its annual winter concert for friends, family, and members of the community. This year's theme was "Brand New Day," aptly chosen as we look back on the past year, say good-bye to mistakes or regrets, and embrace the resolutions and promises of the new year to come. Like sunrise after a dark night, a "Brand New Day" was a warm, glorious, and splendid celebration.

Production of the matinee performance on Wednesday, Dec. 12 and an evening performance Thursday, Dec.13, was coordinated by Silvana Sung who did an extraordinary job organizing all details and numerous staff involved in decorations, lighting, programs, and the reception. Introductions were made by Dr. Stuart Wittenstein, Superintendent of the California School for the Blind. Robin Patche narrated, reading from a script transcribed in Braille. Both performances were well attended; every seat in the theater was filled. Under the musical direction of Wayne Siligo, assisted by Charles Lloyd, the concert was a medley of reggae, jazz, swing, surfer, Broadway, country, bossa nova, and rock featuring piano, organ, keyboard, string bass, guitar, saxophone, drums, conga drums, and other percussion instruments.

Some of the songs performed were old familiar favorites, like "In the Mood," featuring Markus C. on keyboard, and "Linus and Lucy," the theme from Charlie Brown, played on the piano by Nicholas P. Others were original compositions written by Siligo. He has been the music instructor at CSB since 1980 and spends a great deal of time choosing the right songs for school concerts. Songs are chosen to fit a student's abilities and instrumentation. He often adapts songs to meet the band's needs or he might choose to rearrange a song in order to emphasize an instrumental lead. Siligo will also write a tune with a specific student or vocal in mind. His songs can be witty, like "Uncle Pete's Delicious Lunch," with quirky rhymes as creative as any Shel Silverstein classic, or they can be touching and full of lyrical hope like "The Light of Love." Both of these songs were performed by the CSB Singers.

The children, themselves, are a constant source of musical inspiration. For example, in his song "Questions," Siligo presents some of the insightful questions children pose: "Will I have the answers to the questions asked of me? And where's tomorrow's memories? Can I help others see? Can I keep my friends from yesterday? Will they grow along with me? I hope we can remember life's a treasure, and it's free." It would appear, though, that even grown-ups do not have the answers to these questions.

Judging from the talent onstage, it is surprising to learn that students walk into Siligo's classroom with no prior exposure to music. Amazingly, through a combination of Braille music instruction and aural discrimination, many of these gifted students learn to play more than one instrument and often in a short amount of time. For example, 18-year-old Sergio L., one of the most impressive performers, learned to play the saxophone in only two months. Finding the right instrument for each student, remarked Siligo, is a challenging process of "constant evaluation, observation, and trial and error."

The concert featured other solo acts as well, such as Eric A., playing The Mill Wheel on keyboard. Another multi-talented student is 17-year-old Nicholas P. Not only does he play the piano and keyboard, but he can also sing in Portuguese! He was the lead vocal in the Brazilian percussion piece, named The Mantis, which was definitely a crowd pleaser. The percussion ensemble consisted of Joe G., Will H., Derek H., Taeler K., Sergio L., Leo P., Amanda S., and Victor S.

Instrumentalists were not the only stars of the show. There were some great, sweet-sounding vocals from the Glee Club and the CSB Singers. The primary difference between the two singing ensembles is that the Glee Club is an after-school activity for students that reside on-campus and are able to attend practice in the afternoon. The CSB Singers are students that commute and available to practice only during the day. There are approximately 30 members in all. Both choirs were phenomenal in their projection, harmonizing, and melodious presentations. One stand-out vocal from the concert was 19-year-old, alto singer Taeler K. With a killer smile and her interpretation of Chicago's rock classic "Twenty-Five Or Six To Four," Taeler was reminiscent of a young, soulful Janis Joplin.

"A Brand New Day" gave its audience an occasion to celebrate and simultaneously acknowledge how powerful music can be. For the students at CSB, the music program has been a foundation for building self-esteem, self-discipline, cooperation, and team-work. As Siligo explained, "Music is a great vehicle for teaching other things and for learning other life skills." Some benefits of music instruction include the development of reasoning ability, primary reading skills, communication, and positive attitudes. Creativity is also emphasized, as students are encouraged to write their own musical compositions.

The winter's concert was the culmination of a year's worth of hard work and dedication. Throughout 2007, the CSB Jazz Ensemble has had the honor of performing for large audiences and notable guests across the state. Jack O'Connell, the California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, asked the band to perform at his inauguration ceremony held in the capitol. CSB has also performed in front of 4,000 audience members during the Achievement Gap Summit held in Sacramento.

As tradition dictates, the winter concert's finale was the exuberant song Feliz Navidad, written and composed by the blind guitarist Jose Feliciano. The air of the auditorium was filled with glee, as the enthusiastic crowd clapped and sung along to the chorus: "Feliz Navidad, Prospero A?o, y Felicidad" [Wishing you a Merry Christmas, a prosperous new year, and happiness.] It was the perfect ending to a delightful event.

The California School for the Blind will have another concert in the spring of 2008. Siligo would like to encourage all in the community to attend. He imparted, "I would love for anyone in the community, who can find the time, to come and enjoy one of our performances; to see how gifted the students at CSB are and how they all have something to give and to share of themselves. It allows us to show the community that blindness doesn't have to be as huge a handicap as folks might think it is. It gives us a chance to give back."

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